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tv   Seamus Mc Graw A Thirsty Land  CSPAN  April 14, 2018 1:06pm-1:54pm EDT

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to this equation, all hands on deck, we need the poets, the engineers, we need everyone in this room and apply whatever school you have, everything you would love to do, to get somewhere. >> please buy the book, get it signed and see you next year. [inaudible conversations] >> next up from the 6 annual san antonio book festival, water supply issues in texas.
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>> i want to welcome each and every one of you to the sixth annual san antonio book festival. this is the highlight of the year and for all of us who like to eat authors and share ideas with each other, i have great pleasure of introducing in a moment shamus mcgraw who has come from pennsylvania, and highly recommends to anyone interested, a couple things i want to mention, signing books 15 minutes after our session ends, we will end at 12:00 noon on augusta street, shamus will be signing copies of the books that will be available today.
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none of your friends have it, a great time to buy some for your friends. i saw it for the first time five minutes ago. they have opened their campuses to us today to be all over the place in sessions, please use social media to give your reactions and experiences to the festival on hashtag s a book fast. when you do this i won't be able to tell you all that. plenty of time for questions and answers at the end and i ask as you prepare your question make sure there is a question in there. i guess everybody here knows what i'm talking about. shamus is interested in hearing points of view and i will introduce him briefly and he is
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going to share with you something unique, he will tell you how to get in contact with him easily and often. shamus was here three years ago on a water panel when his most recent previous book was out called betting the farm on his route. very interesting book with stories around the country that he collected from people who might have otherwise fallen, farmers, ranchers, hunters and fishermen who might have been presupposed to be climate change skeptics and how their personal experience with climate change informed there opinions was a fascinating book of reporting. shamus is both an author and a journalist, and author of the new york times, popular mechanics, having to and post, before betting the farm on a
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drought, he wrote the end of country dispatches from the phrack zone. you, and theme with water. he has come hear from pennsylvania where he lives and he wants to share a couple pieces of personal information. >> good morning. i'm a storyteller. that is what i do for a living. i'm not a scholar or an engineer. the first book i wrote was required reading at american university one year. i got the best review of that book that i have ever gotten from any book and it was a tweet from one of the students and what she tweeted was shamus mcgraw is a douche and should
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never have written the book. when i addressed the freshman class i thanked her for that review and the reason i thanked her for that review is she proved a point for me. the point was when i was 18 years old and scott dragooned into reading a book i didn't want to read, 3 guys in a bar in south wilkes-barre, that is not the world we live in anymore. there is no wall between the writer and the reader anymore. a book is not the end of a process but the beginning of a conversation. betting the farm grew out of conversations within the country. abca 12 grew out of conversations from betting the farm. it was conversations with
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people like you. i can be reached pretty much 24 hours a day 7 days a week at 570588-6000. that is my home phone number. 570-236-4050 is my cell phone number. seamus mcgraw - i am on facebook as seamus mcgraw and i'm on twitter is seamus mcgraw. if you like the book when you read it and like the characters and read the other books you like the characters in it, join the conversation because we are all having a conversation and you guys will lead me to my next book. >> as i mentioned, the previous book that seamus mcgraw came to our festival to present, is
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about people from the east coast to the west coast, this book has the subtitle, the book is called a thirsty land. the making of an american water crisis. the book is about water in texas. it is about texas and so seamus mcgraw, bad subtitling, why is this book all about texas? >> i will put it this way. texas is not, from my experience, i have fallen in love with texas. let me put it another way. i have fallen in love with all the texans. there isn't one texas. texas isn't a state or independent nation. it is an empire.
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a scholar put it that way in 1964. every possible permutation of the water issue across this country and frankly across this world can be found within the confines of the state of texas. you have places that endure the ravages of hurricanes and floods. you have places that have endured historic droughts and will endure more. there is something else about texas. the thing about texas is if new york and california are the egos of america, texas is its id. every major cultural aspect of this country is not only represented in texas but texas
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becomes a laboratory. the rest of the country, the rest of the world is going to rise to the challenge of hedging against the extremes of climate, providing economic stability in the face of that change, the face of extreme droughts, that is going to play out here in texas first and that is why i was drawn to write about texas. that and the fact they asked me to because no one was dumb enough to take on this project in texas. >> there is an analogy you make repeatedly to different issues you raised. you like in the texas water problems and issues to whack a more. would you tell us a little bit why it reminds you of whack a
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mole? >> you have every representation of the water issue and by solving a problem in one place you can create an entirely unexpected consequence and another. look at the dallas-fort worth metro, looking to turn around, growth and development and to some degree there is a great fear that that is coming at the expense of people in the sulfur river basin. you turn around and look at the developed of the highland lakes system and the growth of auste
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hill country. that was driven by the efforts of rice farms. in places like that. back in the 1930s. and yet the growth upstream has become so significant that during the last drought, the rice farmers in matagorda county found themselves cut off from a significant portion of their water. they had to leave 40,000 acres. flash forward, flash west, a guy by the name of jeff williams, clayton williams's
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son, was interested in taking some of his water and selling it to midland and odessa and was blocked from doing it for the longest time. he did finally prevail. in the course of that fight it occurred to him the laws of texas allowed him to pump hundreds of thousands of gallons of water a day. he wanted to make a point. the rice farmers in the very wet southeast, a portion of the rice crop. you want me to use my water? he grew rice in the ford stock.
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it was only a small -- just a few acres but making a political point. that is what i meant by a game of whack a mole. highland lakes, boston, matagorda county to ford stock and very often in the course of this book and this is not upon, this is not a dry book. this is not, this is not a scholarly treatise because guys, i just barely made it out of high school. this is a story of human beings. and human beings are wild and unpredictable and nowhere is that more true than here in texas. you guys are just like the rest of america only more so and that is how we are going to get
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to learn from you. >> you talked about how water can be used and in most states in the west there is a distinction between the ownership of water, generally in surface waters and the use of the water for individual humans who have water rights and the distinction is used often with one phrase one word. and waste is what you can't do. beneficial use would seem growing rice in the area west of texas doesn't sound very beneficial but it is allowed. my question is does the beneficial use being in the eye of the beholder or in the eye of the texas commission on environmental quality, is that a problem, or is that a potential solution in the
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political process? >> that is up to you guys. what i mean by that is the state to a great extent does d for fathers to 100 local lifetimes and of those local fiefdoms do tend to defer to the individuals within them. and what is beneficial use. it is a ground-up sort of approach which has real value. it has real value in a culture, in a country that prizes the rights of the individual, prizes property rights, and not just looking at a big picture.
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what one man's beneficial use is is another man's quest. a catfish farm not far from here? a beneficial use of water? a beneficial use of water but let me stand up for stockton or let me stand ambassador. is a river that runs through the middle of the sea a beneficial use when nobody is watering crops, nobody is grinding corn with it? i would argue that it is. i would argue that to the san
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antonio river which at this stage of the game is a man-made replica of the river that once ran through here. but only business deals have been closed along that river. what would san antonio be without that river? and would that river still be flowing the way it is if we haven't had that discussion a few years back about the catfish farm? >> many cultures within texas, we have a strong identity with big skies, open lands, pioneer
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and cowboy culture, definition of who we are as texas and that sustains us as being one of the strongest private property rights in the united states. at the same time, we have in the blink of an eye become a very urban state and when we gone from whatever the numbers are, 9 million, to 27 million in my lifetime, population of texas toward 47 or some rather large, expected to be in the state and the water supply seems to be fixed or you make a point that it may be declining a little bit and how are we going to circle that square or square the circle? how are we as a people who have
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very different interests and emphasis on different cultures, through our elected representatives who wants to get reelected, solve that problem? >> and win. >> you want me to answer that question in only 30 minutes? look. the ethos of texas, let me put it another way. travel outside this country and ask somebody to describe an american to you and the image they are going to conjure, somewhere in the back of their mind, is very much texan. it is very much that image we all have of the cowboy on the open range, it is very much
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that image of the individual, that is really not been the case for 100 years in texas. that is not who you really are, that is not who we really are as americans, 400 years. we are a largely urban country and you are the fastest urbanizing state. but there are values that need to be preserved, interests that needs to be preserved going forward. there is going to have to be a reckoning done. you all know what rule of
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capture is, don't you? i don't need to explain it to anybody? there needs to be a reckoning on rule of capture and not just here. you may believe that the only western state that does it. a good portion of the east still does it. there has to be a reckoning. there have to be some discussions about the responsibility that comes with that right and that probably is going to have to take place at 30,000 feet. that probably is going to have to take place. from the perspective of the entire state, looking at this entire empire of texas as a system, looking at this entire empire of texas as an entity. the problem you have in texas is never that you didn't have enough water. it has always been that you didn't have enough water where you needed it and too much where you didn't and that is
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the holistic problem. and the only way to do that, the only way to approach that is to try and find some mechanism. to balance the needs and rights of the individual with the responsibilities of the larger state. that has happened and it has happened here in texas. i would argue to a great extent the edwards aquifer was a model. not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but a model for how those interests could be brought into alignment and we all know how that happened. that happened because the one
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thing that unites texans is the fact that they do not want the federal government to do anything and it was the threat of federal action that turned around and created the opportunity for the edwards. taking it one step further, it has been 50 years since texas last really took a top-down approach in trying to address the water problem. you know about the texas state water plan. that was water plan that would
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have replumb and the entire state of texas. that was a water plan that would have channeled the mississippi river all the way across the northern part of the state and all the way down to the rio grande valley, it would have created a system of reservoirs, required phenomenal energy, the waters of the mississippi would have reached out of the curtain to mexico. governor connolly was an advocate of that plan. .. >> now that plan failed. but do you know how many votes that plan failed by? it failed by 6,000 and change. in other words, there are more people at this festival today than accounted for the margin by which that lost. now, i'm not saying that necessarily would have been an answer. i think it would have created a whole bunch of problems that we
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had not anticipated. there are a lot of reasons to turn around and oppose the creation of a network of reservoirs across a parch. ed land -- parched land. that was really the last time an approach was taken from the top down. and maybe we need to revisit that. >> yep. there's -- is robert gully in the room, the person to whom all san tone januaries should build a statue? [laughter] he's a personal hero of both seamus and mine. he facilitated the three-year process to get us a workable plant. and it's the only major aquifer in texas that has this sort of balance of resource. >> smartest man i ever met. >> i would like to read two quick quotes from the book. one asks -- and this is the
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question of private property on one side and public good on the other side. and water is both of those here in the state of texas and in most western states. seamus asks, how do you manage a resource that everyone needs when everyone thinks that their needs are paramount? he doesn't answer that, but he does tell us some ways that our current system does not answer that and may even be counterproductive in this book. he also quotes our state representative, lyle larson, who's become really the top person in the house on water issues. he says, as larson has put it, it would require recognition that either we're all texans or we're not. so this is talking about sharing a scarce resource and how that gets done. and it's going to go through austin, and so you might want to read this book so that you come out with some specific points of
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view and let your representatives, state senators know. and i think i'm going to ask you, if you would please, to read on page -- i call it 218. hopefully you have it. >> right. >> it's a different page in the hardback version. >> okay. indeed, conservative, liberal, republican, democrats most of those who study the water issue in the state of texas agree on one thing, that the state's bottom-up paradigm for developing water policy exacerbates local problems, institutionalizes conflicts between regions of the state -- the dry west v. the water-logged east -- and most importantly, risks leaving the state woefully unprepared to face a prolonged water crisis that sooner or later is all but guaranteed. >> the drought of record is the drought of the 1950, and in the 1950ss, again, texas had
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around nine million people. if we have exactly the same drought conditions today, the consequences will have to be shared among 27 million people, and it's going to be a problem. so getting prepared for that becomes important, and seamus talks -- he interviews a lot of people that you will know in his book about how we might to that. and then if you'll respond to that, and then i'm going to take questions from the audience. >> it's important to remember, and keep this many in mind -- keep this in mind, you know, the drought of record is seared into the memory of a lot of people in this state. there are a lot of people still alive who remember that. the drought of record is the drought of our record, folks. it is not the worst drought texas has ever experienced. it is not the worst drought that we ever will. so the challenge is profound.
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and no one believes right now that even in the face of another drought of record that we're prepared. somehow or another in that last drought arguably one town came very, very close, but arguably in that last drought no town in texas actually ran out of water. if it had lasted ten days longer, that would not have been the case. >> good. we have two microphones out in the audience, and one -- and two volunteers. if you'll raise your microphones high. i would love to take questions from the audience for seamus to elaborate based on his several years of interviewing everybody
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who's making policy and using those policies in the state of texas. so if you'd just raise your hand, the volunteer will bring you a microphone. somebody should be brave and ask the first question. please. thank you. >> this is a question. >> right, thank you. [laughter] >> framed inside some facts. did you get an opportunity to interview any of the four from -- [inaudible] alessandro puente -- >> no, i did not. no, i'm sorry, yes, i did interview robert puente. >> i don't know if you know this, but did you ask them this question? we were offered money just side of dell rio, that's nothing, and they were going to build a 120-mile line, that company. they squandered it, they refused it, they did all kinds of tricks, and we ended up with
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this burlson thing coming from austin. and that's fiji quality water. did you ask him that? >> we do discuss that a little bit -- >> but did you ask him that very -- >> i didn't is ask him that specific question. >> there is an aquifer, did you know? >> i did. >> the hancock ranch, you've heard of it? >> yes. >> that was my question. what did he say? >> we mentioned it in passing, we did focus more on the burlericsson issue because that is where the impetus was at the time. >> a very interesting thing, when seamus was talking about replumbing, the proposal to replumb the state of texas, that means to be able to move water from where it is to where it may be needed. that proposal failed in the '60s, and today it is still very difficult to move water around the state of texas. and what we are experiencing
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with the vista verde probability is, i suspect, the largest project ever in the state of texas the move water. and a big question will be, will that be made easier in the future through law and regulation, or will it be made harder. and that's, again, it's going to depend on people that we send to austin. another question, please. >> it also matters, by the way, while we're on that, you have to address both moving water from the aquifers, but also from the river basins. that also remains a very complex issue in this state. it is very difficult to move water from one basin to the next. and you have the question of water rights. those are administrative issues. those are things that can be handled legislatively. >> question here, please. >> that actually leads right into my question. because you're familiar with the texan culture, i'm curious to know at what level you think the
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best solutions would come to fruition. whether that's at the federal, state, local legislative level, or do you think that it's more likely going to be solved by private business? >> i've come to the conclusion that it has to be solved on the state level. i've come to the conclusion that is the level that it's most effective. because the interests of this gentleman need to be weighed. and they're not going to be weighed on the local level, and they're not even going to be recognized on the federal level. and so it has to happen on the state level. and there is still a responsibility more those local authorities. and that is to, as clearly as possible, articulate their needs. we're at that point. we've done that very, very effectively. one thing that the state water
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plan does very, very effectively and should be commended for is articulating the local needs. what it doesn't do is prescribe the statewide response. but again, i need to go back to that point. i'm not sure that even when you have people who i believe of goodwill like representative larson really trying to tackle this issue, i'm not sure that without some kind of outside, some threat of outside pressure that there will be the political will to move. i'm not sure that without the threat of some kind of federal action there will be the political will to turn around and address the problem. and quite frankly, in this current political environment i'm not sure that you're going to see that kind of pressure coming from washington. so i, i remain very optimistic,
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but i'm a little less optimistic than i was, say, 18 months ago. [laughter] but i remain hopeful for the future. >> questions. okay. question right here in the front. >> you haven't mentioned to us anything in your book about the treatment and retreatment of wastewater. and clearly, san antonio wouldn't have all its golf courses today if it hadn't addressed that issue and said there is a value to partially-treated water and create other economies with it. >> i am the world's cheapest date when i'm on book tours. i'm camping at the koa campground outside of town which is along soledo creek. that creek just about wasn't
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there not that many years ago. again, it exists because of reused water. i mean, that is, that is a perfect example of it. , there are a couple of issues that come into play with that. i always -- i make the point throughout the book that there is not a single drop of new water and that we are tremendously dependent even now. what's the old line, houston drinks what dallas flushes, you know? there's that. but there's a larger issue. there's a larger issue. and the larger issue is this: we tend to view water -- we talk about water as a commodity now, and in this day and age we talk about water as a commodity that is as valuable as oil or gold.
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it is -- wars are going to be fought over it, countries are going to rise and fall on the back of water and a changing climate. but you know what? when we talk about oil, we talk about grades of oil. when we talk about diamonds, you know, the diamond we pull out of the ground that we stick on one of those drill bits out in midland isn't the same you put on your wife's finger. there are grades of all the resources that we exploit. we don't do that to the same degree with water. we don't even set a solid value for it. water that costs $75 an acre foot to a farmer in one place is worth $3.5 million or thereabouts when you turn around and put it in a bottle made by nestle. that water, that water that we
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use for different purposes doesn't all need to be of the same grade. it's -- why is the water that you wash your dog with, why does that have to be treated the same way the water you wash down your pills withsome we're not there yet -- pills with? we're not there yet. that's going to require a major infrastructure investment. and you know what? a hundred little individual organizations are not going to be able to make that kind of infrastructure investment. but in the meantime, we can turn around and keep that in our minds. so the question is, yes, we have to exploit reuse, we have to develop reuse, we have to turn around and develop other strategies as well. rain camping where that's -- catching where that's useful. but we also have to recognize that there are varying grades and water and that they have varying values and place varying
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responsibilities an owl of us to obtain that. >> and i will say seamus does -- i'll use the word treat the topic -- >> in his book. he talks a lot about the progress we have made with reuse of water, asrs, the things that have been done in san antonio. we are a little bit of a poster child nationally. >> absolutely. absolutely. >> we've got a question back here, please. >> i'm always curious in these discussions, when our city leaders are talking about san antonio growing and growth is good and so forth, is it a fait accompli now that we're just going to have this growth? my question is how big is big enough? in the past when water was a problem, people moved to where water wasn't a problem. now we seem to be at a point where, again, it's a fait
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accompli that if the water's not there, we'll just move it there. is that where we're at? are we going to be another -- is san antonio going to be mechanics coe city in 100 -- mexico city in 100 years? >> good question. i think that's a nice limited question for the next couple minutes, and we have one more question back here. >> that is a, that's ultimately up to you. that is ultimately up to you. i will say this, i will say that san antonio -- and it's not just san antonio -- i believe you've quietly been grappling with that issue for a while. and i believe that on occasion when it's gone to the voters on issues, for example, like turning around and preserving research areas over the act by -- recharge areas over the aquifer, you have opted to do
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that. you have opted too spend money to do that. you have opted to put your money literally where your mouth is to do that. while at the same time that you're doing that, you're also restricting development in that area. you're turning around and saying, okay, somewhere in the back of our minds we recognize that no organism can grow beyond what it can sustain. finish -- are you going to curb it in time? like i say, that's ultimately up to you. are you going to become mexico city? i don't imagine that you are. i don't imagine that you are. but understand also i think it is important to recognize that when you have these urban
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concentrations, these areas of economic development, they don't just benefit the people who are here. there are benefits that also ripple out across the state. so whereas you're benefiting from the consequences that you visit on others, there's also a balance to be struck in the benefit that you give. but ultimately, like i say, the answer comes down to you. you're the ones who have to cry enough. >> i think we've got time for one more question right here in the middle. please. >> yes, sir. i'm interested in sources of water, and i think a lot of water in texas is fossil water. >> uh-huh. >> you talk about that? for a minute? >> yeah, not really.
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[laughter] you finish that's not really what you're drawing. that's not really what you're drawing. if you look at here, all right, you're not talking about fossil water, you're talking about daily water. you're talking about daily water that flows through something like the edwards. when you talk about some of the, some of the older, deeper aquifers, you're talking about things that have more limited use. jeff williams place stratified with a couple of different aquifers, it's the edwards trinity that he's more focused on. but there's an aquifer down that's contaminated with sulfur, all right? seriously contaminated with sulfur. not so seriously that you can't use it for other purposes. that gets back to the issues i was talking about, about drawing water for other sources. so, no, i don't think the fossil
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water, per se, is so much of an issue as the grades of water is. one of the things that the state will tell you, and there is some truth to it, is that the thing that allows them to sleep at night is the future of de-sal. that, you know, someday the gulf of mexico will be able to solve all of our problems. i'm less sanguine about that. i'm less sanguine about that than they are for a couple of reasons. those facilities, were we able to do it at scale -- and it is interesting that, you know, one of the first that we really did at scale in this country was in texas, and we haven't done much since on the coast. we've done a lot inland but not much since. it was at dow. one of the problems with it is that where that infrastructure would be is in an area where infrastructure is in jeopardy from these increasingly severe storms. one of the things that makes,
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that gives me pause about that is the idea that not only is it in areas that are subject to these storms, it's also in areas that are subject to, that are loaded with petrochemical facilities. just last year state of the art, i mean, cutting edge, israel isen on the cutting edge of -- is on the cutting edge of de-sal. they lost three of their plants for months in the north of israel because of an oil spill. so i've become a little less sanguine about that than the state is. i will say this, for the first time after harvey -- it was talked about before, but for the first time since harvey the state is now doing, beginning the first of a series of five-year state flood plans that i think will begin to address
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that. it's going the address it the same way we've been addressing -- [inaudible] from the ground up, from the bottom up. but at least it's a start. >> i wish we could go on for another couple of hours. however, all good things must end, and this session must end. however, you can talk with seamus -- >> i'm not going anywhere. >> and you can buy his book outdoors at the tent, refreshing breeze. it's the barnes & noble tent on augusta street, and he will inscribe it for you. and i hope this conversation will include all of us in the future as well as our representatives -- >> and i'm dead serious, i'm dead serious about the phone number, the e-mail, all that stuff. i am dead serious about that. and for right now, folks, i'm 1800 miles from home. i'm not going anywhere. and i'm driving a subaru i don't the trust. >> thank you for all coming to the festival.
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[applause] [inaudible conversations] >> the san antonio book festival continues now with an author discussion on immigration. [inaudible conversations] [laughter] >> i think we'll go ahead and start. good morning, everyone. good morning. welcome to the san antonio book festival. we encourage attendees to use the social media with the hashtag sa book fest. thank you for joining us this morning, and thank you to the san antonio public library and to the southwest school of art and craft for sharing their space with us. a porti f


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